Running without shoes has been proven to lead to effective load balancing, which is great for forefoot running because this allows you to have more sturdy ankles.
In forefoot running, if load balancing is upset, big problems can arise. Because load balancing during running is influenced by mechanical transients on the foot, stability errors can manifest if cushioned running shoes are worn, which filter out mechanical transients.
Boost Balance By Running Without Shoes
Researchers are starting to suspect that more subtle balance impairments, influenced by shoe cushioning, leads to common running-related injuries such as ankle sprains and high-impact overuse injuries.
A study by Robbins and Waked demonstrated that optimal load balancing and ankle stability is governed primarily by plantar sensory feedback which can be maximized by going barefoot, or at least in pure minimalist shoes that provide adequate plantar tactile stimuli.
Furthermore, muscle strength imbalances might not be the reason balance goes awry during running as research has uncovered more clues on the effects of shoe cushioning on balance impairments. Cushioned footwear seems to play a more important role in destabilizing a runner and impairing foot position precision
Less Proprioception, Less Stability
One theory that explains poor load balancing in runners is the gradual decline or degeneration of proprioceptors.
Certain stimuli thresholds influence proprioceptive density and function. Wearing cushioned running shoes reduces stimuli thresholds, leading to a number of under-stimulated proprioceptors.
- The degree of stimulation affects the degree to which sensory receptors are active and poorly stimulated proprioceptors are not sufficient for adequate balance control.
In contrast, another study by Robbins et al. found that effective load balancing as well as impact-moderating behaviour were maintained at safe levels under barefoot conditions. The researchers also recommended walking barefoot before running.
- According to Dr. Steven Robbins (MD) at McGill University, much of the muscular adaptations needed for running barefoot can happen as a result of walking barefoot.
The Take Home Message
Forget about over-emphasizing strength training or finding the best stability shoe to make you a more stable runner.
When it comes to safe load balancing during forefoot running, the answer is running barefoot, or in barefoot-like running shoes, coupled with barefoot walking as often as you can as these conditions play the most important role in regulating proprioceptive function and density.
Runners seem to forget that balance is under neuromuscular control. Any term with ‘neuro’ in it means that the action in question is often dictated at the receptor level. Blocking or suppressing receptor activity, i.e. the suppressive action of shoe cushioning, prevents information from being transmitted to the spinal cord and the brainstem, leading to poor movement control and loss of balance.
More From Run Forefoot:
- Uphill Intervals or Speedwork? Which is Best for Your Performance
- How Pre-Run Stretching Effects the Tendons
- Specific Injuries Caused by Cushioned Running Shoes
- Why Kids Need to Be Barefoot
- Forefoot Running Shoe Reviews
Dyck, P. J., Classen, S. M., and Stevens, J. C.,Assessment of nerve damage in the fed of long-distance runners. Mayo Clin. Pruc.,62, 568-572, 1987.
Robbins, S. E. and Waked. E. G., Humans amplify impact to compensate for instability caused by shoe sole materials, Arch. Phys. Mea. Rehabil., 78; 46l-467, 1997.
Robbins SE and Waked E. Foot position awareness: the effect of footwear on instability, excessive impact, and ankle spraining. Clin Reviews in Phys Rehab Med, 1997;9(1):53-74.
BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.